Usability vs Creativity

Usability vs Creativity
One of the most common challenges we face in web and interactive design is the decision of when you need to position creativity over usability, usability guidelines over creative freedom, or finding a middle balance between the two. As experienced specialists in the industry it comes easy for us to know when our design should be purely user-experience focused without the need of any unique creativity, or when we can afford to break the rules to be creative and innovative without worrying about usability best practises. But most of the times our aim is to strive a perfect balance of the two.

But what happens when a client is after a very creative or innovative design approach to their project, when in reality what they really need for the success of their goals is a well thought usability approach?

Back in the good old days of Flash strict usability wasn’t too much of an issue as we always had a clear brief what the aim was for a project and if a creative and immersive experience was the goal. We would create fully animated websites for example, with video, music and unconventional navigation menus. There were not so many guidelines to follow as we were only limited to the desktop experience of the user and so we had a blank canvas of creative freedom to work with. Today we take into account multiple resolutions, multiple devices, multiple browsers, plugin support, internet speeds, etc. that have created a big set of rules that we need to be aware of and follow.

Users expect to see certain common elements, such as promo sliders, social or news feeds, top navigation menus, language selectors or login areas at the top right corners, mobile menus at small resolutions, etc. The challenge to find the balance between an innovative and creative approach within a perfect usable environment has increased, not only for designers but to the entire team and the resources needed for a project. Good team work is required between a usability specialist, the designer and the developer or programmer to aim high and deliver a project that will perfectly use both aspects in a unique or innovative way. But most of the times, when resources, budget and deadlines are limited, the goal always remains to prioritise usability over creativity and simply aim for an aesthetically good looking product without compromising the overall goal of the project.

The main reason to prioritise usability lies to the fact that most of the time, it is more important to the success of a product to have a good lasting user experience over a good first impression that may offer no return need to the user.  People demand fast loading interfaces, clear information, common practises of user interface elements so that they can browse at ease without much thinking and get the information they are after within seconds. This ensures that a user will return and reuse the product, and even increase conversion rates. Most of the times you cannot afford to provide a client with anything less, but that doesn’t mean you cannot produce something beautiful to use or look at. There are many elements a designer can play around with, such as animations, clever layouts, photography, icons etc., without compromising the user experience in any way. But the pitfall for trying to go against the rules to be innovative or different comes to the high chances of failure for applying any proper use of usability which could cause users not to reuse your product, which may result to a failed outcome; no matter how innovative or different it is.

As a creative designer, coming to terms with this realisation was not so easy throughout the years since most of the time I felt that there was no room to be creative, at all. This is not true. After some good experience of learning to design with usability guidelines, either from best and common practises or either from a usability specialist, you also learn where or how you can apply creative touches and innovative approaches without compromising the user experience, but instead enhancing it. And that’s not an easy task, especially for big projects where you need proper team work to make everything work well. And once you arrive at this point you are able to be more decisive and constructive when and how you can afford to prioritise creativity and design innovation or simply stick with a simple yet beautiful and engaging user experience design.

So, if a client comes with the request to prioritise one of the two, a designer or an agency may choose to follow the client’s direction, knowingly that is wrong without advising otherwise, simply because there is a personal gain such as an increase in budget or a much better portfolio project or maybe for avoiding the hustle to suggest otherwise. But as experts in the industry it is our duty to advice and constructively explain the negative and positive impacts of each decision, and propose the ideal approach that ensures the most successful results for the client’s goals, even if it means an outcome that we wouldn’t necessarily take pride for.


Loris Stavrinides
Loris Stavrinides
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